September 2, 2020
By: Deborah Childress
LAKELAND, Fla. – A lawsuit filed on August 26, 2020, by Plaintiff, Jane Doe, alleges what is another case of sexual assault by a Hand and Stone licensed massage therapist. The alleged incident occurred at 4750 South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, a Hand and Stone franchise operation owned by Defendant, Clarion Spas, LLC of Brandon Florida. In recent years, similar complaints against Hand and Stone franchisees have been reported in Florida, from Clermont and Orlando to Ft. Myers and Naples.
The lawsuit states that on May 23, 2020, Jane Doe became shocked, frozen and afraid when a male, licensed massage therapist “sexually touched her inappropriately.
Among several counts made against the Defendant is “Direct Negligence of Hand and Stone Franchise Corporation.” The count complains the company allowed a Hand and Stone therapist to remain employed after knowing he sexually assaulted a female customer. It also complained that Hand and Stone failed to report the alleged sex assault in this case to authorities, although they claim to have a “zero tolerance” policy.
However, in other sexual assault cases against Hand and Stone, as well as other high-volume spas, the defense is that sexual assault by a licensed massage therapist is outside the purview of the corporation’s responsibility, as it is not part of the therapist’s job description. It appears from journalistic research that, in part, spa corporations attempt to avoid terminating, suspending, or reporting accused massage therapists until a trial by jury has been completed with a verdict, although suspensions have been occasionally reported. In some instances, even law enforcement withdraws from taking action.
In a case from Ft. Myers, as reported by the Ft. Myers News-Press on August 1, 2020, two women filed charges with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office regarding sexual assault by the same local Hand and Stone licensed massage therapist.
The same massage therapist is listed with the Florida Department of Health as being accused in a similar complaint while he was employed with Massage Luxe in Naples. However, Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office concluded there was no probable cause that a crime was committed. In these two women’s cases, Hand and Stone stated they accepted no liability for the employee’s sexual battery against a third party, as his conduct was not within the scope of his employment. Hand and Stone itself demanded a jury trial.
Jane Doe’s lawsuit against Hand and Stone and Clarion Spas LLC demands a trial by jury. A call to clarify the Defendant’s policies was not returned. The attorney for the lawsuit’s Plaintiff is Gordon and Partners, P.A. of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
NOTE: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally require that a publicly filed lawsuit name all the parties involved. However, under certain circumstances, plaintiffs can avoid disclosing their name by filing a lawsuit using a pseudonym (such as “Jane Doe” or “John Doe”). Although the use of a pseudonym commonly arises in sexual harassment cases, some courts are reluctant to allow a plaintiff to proceed pseudonymously based solely on allegations of sexual harassment. Other bases, such as a reasonable fear of reputational damage or the risk of psychological harm if the litigant’s true identity is revealed, are often required for a plaintiff to proceed anonymously.
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